Electronic ERD - Introduction to this Edition

Compiled by E.C.Cawte, A.Helm & N.Peacock. Online ed.: P.T.Millington

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This introduction was prepared by Peter Millington with advice from Christopher Cawte and Norman Peacock. They have also commented on Millington's annotations to the original chapters.

The information in this database is drawn from a deceptively small book, English Ritual Drama: A Geographical Index, published by Christopher Cawte, Alex Helm and Norman Peacock in 1967, along with supplements and updates published in three installments by Cawte in Roomer - the newsletter of the Traditional Drama Research Group - in 1981, 1982 and 1985. The core of these publications comprised an extensive bibliography of over 800 references, and a comprehensive table of all the locations in Great Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere for which records of folk plays were then known (over 1,500 places). There were also introductory chapters, distribution maps, and examples of texts.

In discussing this edition with the surviving authors Cawte and Peacock, there was a debate whether or not to include the original ERD's introductory chapters. They undoubtedly contain important information on the way the index was compiled, the criteria for inclusion, definitions, and so forth. On the other hand, some sections are now very outdated, particularly the ideas on the origins of the plays, which Cawte and Peacock significantly no longer support. However, it was decided that it would be counter-productive to omit any of these chapters. Instead, they have been included with introductory paragraphs and/or footnotes that explain relevant developments since ERD was published, and outline the differences between the original and electronic editions.

Alex Helm, 1962 Christopher Cawte (left) and Norman Peacock, 2002
Alex Helm
(Photo: Ian Helm, 1962)
Christopher Cawte (left) & Norman Peacock
(Photo: Derek Schofield, 2002)
Reproduced with the kind permission of the photographers.

The Original Project

English Ritual Drama emerged from a large project in the 1950s and 1960s to catalogue all known references, not only to folk drama, but also "ceremonial dance" (morris and sword dancing), animal disguise customs, Plough Monday, etc. This was a group effort by the three authors, led by Alex Helm, and initially also including Roger Marriott. ERD was the second of three lists resulting from this work, the others being A Geographical Index of the Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain (Cawte et al, 1960), and Ritual Animal Disguise (Cawte, 1978). No doubt more publications would have appeared, but for the untimely death of Alex Helm in 1970. His monograph The English Mummers' Play was published posthumously in 1980, edited by his colleagues. As already mentioned, Cawte also went on to publish three updates for ERD in Roomer in the 1980s, by which time many new resources had become available, including the important James Madison Carpenter collection.

Helm's collection and his copies of the indexing slips amassed by the project were deposited after his death in Special Collections in the Library, University College London, where they continue to be a valuable resource for folklore researchers. A detailed inventory of the collection was prepared by Ervin Beck and Paul Smith in 1984. While this still needs thorough proof reading and major revisions, an online version of the inventory is available on the Folk Play Research website (Beck et al, 2000). A useful public discussion of Helm's working methods was held by his surviving colleagues at the International Traditional Drama Conference 2002, of which there is a transcript (Cass et al, 2002).

Cawte and Peacock retain their copies of the indexing slips. Cawte adds that "The original indexes record reservations, discussions, and decisions, some of which may be helpful for later workers, so for some purposes [ERD] may be inadequate. ... The list was prepared using some preconceptions, and ... we were learning on the job." (Cawte, personal communication, 2007)

The Legacy of ERD

For the slim tome it is, ERD has very much punched above its weight, and is arguably the most cited book in folk drama studies. Its comprehensive lists inspired many people to research more deeply into folk drama, and of course guided them to much of the primary information sources they needed. Several people have used ERD as a starting point to compile expanded lists for particular counties or regions - expanded both in terms of including newly discovered information and/or providing more information on each tradition, sometimes including full texts. Helm himself compiled two such guides, for Cheshire and for Staffordshire.

Whereas ERD only listed the earliest published version of any particular play, compilers of subsequent lists have generally also included later reprints, not least because they are sometimes more accessible than the primary sources. This has also boosted numbers.

In most cases, post-ERD county and regional lists have at least doubled the number of locations known. To give a flavour of how much things progressed during the 20th century, the list of folk plays in The Mediaeval Stage (E.K.Chambers, 1903, pp.205-206) gave none for Scotland, although his footnotes mention three texts (pp.210-211). Chambers' English Folk-play (1933) listed 6 Scottish plays, and in a precursor to ERD that Helm published in 1954, the number had crept up 8 plays. In ERD (1967) this had grown to a still sparse 35 plays. However, Brian Hayward's (1992) book increased this number to an impressive 105 plays. This is not an untypical rate of discovery.

The "children" of ERD include English county guides for:

  • Berkshire (Roud, 1980; Roud & Bee, 1991)
  • Cheshire (Helm, 1968)
  • Hampshire (Roud & Marsh, 1980)
  • Isle of Wight (Roud, 1981)
  • Lancashire (Cass, 2001)
  • Nottinghamshire (Millington, 1980; Millington & Jones, 1999-2006)
  • Oxfordshire (Roud, 1984)
  • Staffordshire (Helm, 1984)
  • Sussex (Staveley, 2002)
  • Wiltshire (Roud & Marsh, 1978)
  • Yorkshire
    • Pace Eggers of the Calder Valley (Cass, 2004)
    • Blue Stotts (Marshall & Rankin, 2003)

and national compilations for:

  • Scotland (Hayward, 1992)
  • Isle of Man (Miller, 2011)

By any standards, these are quite some legacy.

This Electronic Edition

The credit for conceiving of an electronic version of English Ritual Drama deservedly goes to Paul Smith. In the early 1980s - an era when computing still used coding forms, punched cards and paper tapes - he created an electronic version, which he used to generate line printer "doorstep" printouts, including new listings similar to those given here. The technology of the day was not geared up for wide distribution, and only a limited number of printouts were produced and passed to certain members of the Traditional Drama Research Group, mainly for proof-reading purposes. Eventually, this data was merged with other new references gathered by Steve Roud, and published as an interactive bibliography on disk (Roud & Smith, 1993). Computer technology has since moved on, and unfortunately the disks are probably no longer usable on modern computers.

This edition has been completely re-digitised from the original book and its Roomer supplements, using an OCR scanner. This was initially done so that ERD data could be used to plot a distribution map of the plays' times of appearance (Millington, 2005). At the time Smith's electronic files were not immediately available.

The optical character recognition (OCR) process was fairly good, but required a considerable amount of proof reading, especially to ensure that the letters "O", "I", "l" and "B" were not mistaken for the numbers "0", "1" and "8" and vice versa. In due course, Smith's data became available, so it was also possible to use it to check further the accuracy of the new digitised version - for which, many thanks.

Further quality assurance arose from additional processing of the data - splitting the tabular information into separate fields, parsing the bibliographic data to separate authors, titles, journals, etc., and merging the supplements with the main listings. Generating output listings and plotting updated distribution maps also revealed some errors for correction. A few minor errors and inconsistencies were in the original data - but it must be said, very few. These were corrected and suitably annotated as necessary.

This online edition is not just a straight copy of the original. One of the few criticisms of the original index was its excessive use of codes for various categories and for bibliographic references. These were perhaps necessary given the limitations of publishing and the Folk-Lore Society's house style in 1967, but nonetheless complicated matters, especially as the bibliography was sorted by bibliographic code rather than by author's name. In this edition, the category codes have been expanded into full phrases, and the 4-letter bibliographic codes have been replaced by Harvard-style name & year citations (an approach that Cawte had already started using in his supplements).

The original book had two main listings - the geographical Table of Locations arranged by county, and the Bibliography. In this edition, the geographical index is pretty much the same, however, the bibliography is now sorted conventionally by surname, and under each reference is a list of the geographical entries it covers. New indexes have been added for authors, for journal titles, and for placenames.

The distribution map of play types has been updated, and new distribution maps added for times of appearance, and for text availability. The original maps used cross hatchings for data points, whereas here, colours are used instead. These maps have been prepared using a method based on 10km National Grid squares. If at least one place within a 10km grid square has the required feature, the whole square is coloured in. If a given square has more than one feature, it is coloured half and half, or whatever proportion is appropriate. This approach makes it easy to spot general patterns.

Obtaining Copies of Items

Having used ERD to find the bibliographic details of relevant publications and manuscripts, you will naturally want to obtain the full items. The following lists outline the principal resources that may help, roughly in order of convenience.

Online Versions

Increasingly, original sources are being digitised and made available online. Many are free to use, but some, such as the scholarly journal archive JSTOR can only be accessed by subscribers. Some of the most useful sources for folk drama are:

  • The Collection of Scripts on the Traditional Drama Research Group's Folk Play Research website holds about 220 play texts.
  • There are various online libraries of digitised books available, including Google Books and Project Gutenberg.
  • General web searches for particular publications using their titles (specified within quotation marks) and/or the authors' names may also prove successful.

Local Resources

If you want to obtain copies of items relating to your local plays, try the local studies section of your nearest public library. In some cases, you may be referred to your main county or city library.

Some local studies libraries have indexes to local newspapers. Current newspapers may also have websites with online versions of recent editions. They may be full-text searchable, although photographs will often be missing for all but the most recent issue.

National Resources

The custodians of the various national collections of folk play material will generally do their best to satisfy bona fide requests for information, but they tend to have limited resources, so please be patient. They may also have service charges. Being a paid-up member of the relevant Society and/or being academically acredited may help.

Peter Millington


E.Beck, P.S.Smith & P.T.Millington (2000-2018) Inventory of the Alex Helm Collection
Internet URL:, 2000-2018

E.Cass (2001) The Lancashire Pace-Egg Play: A Social History
London, FLS Publications, [2001], ISBN 0-903515-22-9

E.F.Cass (2004) The Pace-Egg Plays of the Calder Valley
London, FLS Books, 2004, ISBN 0-9035152-3-7

E.Cass, N.Peacock, E.C.Cawte, P.T.Millington, P.S.Smith & D.Schofield (2002) Discussion about Alex Helm and his Collection
Folk Drama Studies Today: The International Traditional Drama Conference 2002, ed. by E.Cass & P.Millington
Sheffield, Traditional Drama Research Group, 2003, ISBN 0-9508152-3-3, pp.177-195
[PDF Download - 116kB]

E.C.Cawte, Alex Helm, R.J.Marriott & Norman Peacock (1960) A Geographical Index of the Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain
Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Dec.1960, Vol.9, No.1, pp.1-41

E.C.Cawte, A.Helm & N.Peacock (1967) English Ritual Drama: A Geographical Index
London, Folklore Society, 1967

E.C.Cawte (1978) Ritual Animal Disguise: A Historical and Geographical Study of Animal Disguise in the British Isles
Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978

E.C.Cawte (1981) Amendments to 'English Ritual Drama'
Roomer, 1981, Vol.1, No.5, pp.23-26

E.C.Cawte (1982) Amendments to English Ritual Drama - Part 2
Roomer, 1982, Vol.2, No.2, pp.9-16

E.C.Cawte (1985) Amendments to 'English Ritual Drama': Part 3
Roomer, 1985, Vol.5, No.2, pp.9-22

E.K.Chambers (1903) The Mediaeval Stage: Vol.I
Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1903, pp.205-227

E.Chambers (1933) The English Folk-Play
Oxford, University Press, 1933

B.Hayward (1992) Galoshins: The Scottish Folk Play
Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1992, ISBN 07486-0338-7

A.Helm (1954) The English Folk Play: A General Survey
Manchester, E.F.D.S.S., 1954

A.Helm (1968) Cheshire Folk Drama
Ibstock, Guizer Press, 1968

A.Helm (1980) The English Mummers' Play
London, Folklore Society, 1980, ISBN 0-85991-067-9

Alex Helm (1984) Staffordshire Folk Drama
Ibstock, Guizer Press, 1984, ISBN 0-902065-08-4

C.Marshall & S.Rankin (2003) The Return of the Blue Stots: An Aspect of Traditional Drama in Yorkshire
London, Dockside Studio, 2003

S.Miller (2011) "Who wants to see the White Boys Act?": The Mumming Play in the Isle of Man: A Compendium of Sources
[Douglas]: Chiollagh Books, 2011, ISBN 978-1-898613-20-6

P.T.Millington (1980) An Interim Checklist of Nottingham Folk Plays and Related Customs
Long Eaton, P.T.Millington, 1980
Reprinted: Sheffield, Traditional Drama Research Group, 1984, ISBN 0-9508152-1-7

P.Millington & I.T.Jones (1999-2018) Nottinghamshire List Folk Plays and Related Customs
Internet URL:, 1999-2018

P.Millington (2009) Folk Play Distribution Map: Traditional Times of Appearance
Internet URL:, 2009

S.Roud (1980) Mumming Plays in Berkshire
Andover, S.Roud, 1980

S.Roud (1981) Mumming Plays in the Isle of Wight: Preliminary Listing
Andover, S.Roud, 1981

S.Roud (1984) Mumming Plays in Oxfordshire
Sheffield, Traditional Drama Research Group, 1984

S.Roud & M.Bee (1991) Berkshire Mumming Plays: A Geographical Index and Guide to Sources
London, Folklore Society, 1991, ISBN 0-871903-25-4

S.Roud & P.Marsh (1978) Mumming Plays in Wiltshire
Andover, S.Roud, 1978

S.Roud & P.Marsh (1980) Mumming Plays in Hampshire: 7th Edition
Andover, S.Roud, 1980

Steve Roud & Paul Smith [eds.] (1993) Mummersí Plays: Electronic Subject Bibliographies 3 Enfield Lock, Hisarlik Press, 1993, ISBN 1-874312-10-9

D.Staveley (2002) Mummers Plays
Internet URL:, 2002

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© 2007-2011, E.C.Cawte, N.Peacock & P.Millington ( Rev. 24-Jan-2021